This is the crossroads.
And no, it isn’t that in-between from old books in dust-spotted libraries. It isn’t the dark port a ferryman passes through to carry one’s soul from the land of the living to the land of the dead, or a fairytale halfway land where spirits push back and forth at their leisure. The world between worlds is nowhere so distant as the mythic labyrinth of souls and ghouls commanded by half-forgotten gods and goddesses.
It is on the other side of the vodka bottle mixed with ice and an assortment of candy-flavoured mixers, burning down the throats of figures dancing to a specific rhythm. It makes me lightheaded and bold — and impolite — and as the sweet warmth fills my cheeks, there is nothing that amuses me more than my own petulance. “No,” I say, again and again, and laugh. It is in the music — a contradiction between the shallowness of words and the brilliance of keyboards and drum-kits, collected around a fast, throbbing heartbeat teetering on the edge of swallowing everything whole. The irritated tone of our favourite rapper reminds us of our function, of the use of our curves, and the conflict of our promiscuity through the lenses of men who isolate only their mothers from the design of women as whores, as vehicles, as things to be mounted from behind quite indiscriminately, like a horse or a motorcycle, and then exchanged for a newer one. We know every word, and I believe with red-faced sincerity that the song's message isn't for me -- though quietly, just to ourselves, we joke that if it is, then there is some power in that too. How cheap can a girl be, truly, if the unapologetic fist she wraps around her sexuality, inspires a man to three verses, one hook and a chorus repeated eight times?
It is in the timelessness between friends as we laugh until our faces are sore, and feel so sure that in that moment, the clocks have stopped and all that is and will be is what it is now. You are young and tall, painted gold from blossom to root, and our silences are filled with the unspoken understanding and backhanded sweetness of what could have been if our branches had crossed in another season. We huddle together, your hands cupped over my lips, as I light a cigarette and fill my mouth with the first plume of tobacco — and it is there, that limbo, in how arrogant we are of our youth to breathe that ash in. Our eyes are squinting over the glow of the flame and they smile at each other when our mouths are occupied — and, there it is! Empathy. It is in the cloud of faces that line the passages, yards and living rooms of what was once your home, your furniture twisted into corners, and the same rehearsed words of introduction that are used to placate each one. It is in the inevitable “are you having a good night?” from the boys and occasional girl who struggles with opening words, but likes enough of what he or she sees that leaving in silence doesn’t seem right.
It is in his coolness where I find him, in the smell of peaches and cologne and all the things he allows to lather his skin like I do. His head turns to watch her — someone else; her skin is darker than mine, her hair the colour of sunsets in the tropics and all the wild flame I lack — walking by with a half-consumed glass, and in his cockiness he doesn’t realise that I watch his expression under the stiff brim of his new, overpriced hat as intently as he watches hers. Though his chest rests against and slightly above mine (and surely through the cotton and silk that separates us he can feel the pitter-patter of my pulse as certainly as I can feel his — steadier, harder) I am aware only of the walls that I can feel as solidly as any brick or iron fence I’ve ever skimmed my fingertips over as I pull his eyes toward me.
I take his hand and my nails dig in. Stop ruining my forever.
It is in the secrets we ignore and swallow back behind mouthfuls of liquor and blood. The gentleness of bare thigh against denim; the roughness of a shared joint on the bonnet of an old car, pondering the constellations we might’ve known the names of in another life. He re-carves his name on some unknown part of me when we kiss. The gentleness of his hands in my hair as I bow against a tree, regretting all I’ve done between the regurgitation of syrup and half-digested carbohydrates; the roughness of my hand around the axe I bring up and down, on golden curls.
There it is — the crossroads. That small pocket between life and death where nothing much else seems to exist but the presence or absence of a heartbeat. He is stretched like a lazy cat, long and relaxed, as he carefully rolls another perfect cylinder compacted with I don’t know what — I can’t see if the dried coils are brown or green under the moonlight, but I hope for the best. He seems bored now, and is content to prepare the celebration before the event has even been accomplished. I cut her open alone in the grass, and her cries mingle with the shrill melody echoing down from the top of the hill before the speakers implode with another pounding bassdrop. I bury her beside his dog. He has already dug the hole. Her body is piled over the limbs of another boy I had danced with earlier in the night; my cell number is still on the back of his hand and even with grey eyes rolled up and jaw unslung and slack, he shines through the filth as a newly-dropped coin. It is you, and even against the soil and worms, you are beautiful.
He stands beside me when I’m done, removes my clothes and washes me with the hose. A steady hand directs the stream of cold water over my face, my shoulders, my hands, and soon we are laughing and playing like children again. And in that moment, we are as we will ever be, as are the stars and the unmoving moon, and there will be no sunrise after. This is all there is.